Even with first-year head coach Daniel Valenzuela now at the helm of the Sedona Red Rock High School boys soccer team, its culture of learning and progressing remains the same.
Naturally, Valenzuela wants his Scorpions team to win as many games as possible. But what is different is that through what he teaches he wants the players to dig deeper, to play in a more brainy way.
“You know that you have new skills and you know you’re playing to the most intelligent standard that your head can produce in that situation,” Valenzuela said. “I’m looking for intelligence. Game intelligence, tactical intelligence, some emotional intelligence.”
Valenzuela is in his first year as head coach but is not new to the team, having watched many of its games in the past.
However, he became the coach later on, and so the team started practicing one week late. And there have not been many bodies out practicing on a consistent basis, either.
Nonetheless, no one has a guaranteed spot in the starting 11.
“What you produce on the field, what your moment is, will determine, so that for me there is no favoritism,” Valenzuela said.
Where the Scorpions lack in numbers they make up for in talent.
Leading the way will be a returning midfield and attacking group upon which the team will heavily rely, led by players like sophomore striker Ben Philo and senior midfielders Julian Travaglia, Alan Ruvalcaba and Brian Burke. That attack produced 42 goals en route to a 9-1 overall record and 2-1 in 3A Region 1 competition, with two region matches canceled due to inclement weather.
Where it lacks is in defense. The team lost three starters from last season during which it gave up 24 goals, nine of which were in the first-round playoff exit to eventual champion Yuma Catholic High School.
“We have a very well-rounded midfield and a very strong offense,” Ruvalcaba said. “What we’re lacking in is defense this year. We’re short on the height and the numbers.
“Being able to work on the communication and flow is what we need to work on.”
One newcomer that has surprised is the addition of sophomore Michael Lagorio. Lagorio has experience playing at the club level with local coach Reuben Philo, but has yet to lace up the cleats for the Red Rock team.
“He’s doing really well. He’s building up himself and that’s what we need is a strong key player for the wing,” Ruvalcaba said. “He’s really fast, got the pace and everything. I think he’ll be fine .... It all really depends on how this team really connects together.”
With the high school season so short, there is little time to get everyone on the same page. Even less in this case considering the late start, but some players like Ruvalcaba have spent the offseason training with Valenzuela.
Valenzuela spent 13 years working at a skills academy in the metropolitan areas of New York and Connecticut. That style of training, which focuses on the players’ first touch and other individual skills, has been the focus so far. He bought a sniper, which is a large, firm tarp that covers the mouth of the goal except for the four corners.
It forces players to be more precise when shooting, an example of what he has brought to the program that is different than before.
“He knows what he’s doing and his teachings are very methodical, very unorthodox,” Ruvalcaba said of Valenzuela. “If you just look at it at a broad perspective it actually helps a lot with what we’re doing.”
In terms of team play, Valenzuela simply wants more creativity, intelligence and awareness both of what is going on around them as well as within themselves. He hopes that what he teaches will lead to more efficiency in movement and passing, combining technical ability with smart tactics and a calm demeanor, not faltering in key moments.
More than that, he hopes that it can affect the players on an individual level, too.
“There is so much unknown in them that we can potentially bring out, and maybe we can bring one or two things out,” Valenzuela said. “I want to impress upon them continually how good this soccer program can be.”
Another area of change is focused on the fan base. Valenzuela is in the process of hopefully establishing a snack bar for every game, getting his recently rescued baby pit bull named Luna to be a mascot, and putting up flyers in businesses around the English- and Spanish-speaking communities.
All of those efforts are meant to create a larger group of fans to support the team, creating a better atmosphere for the players.
With a new coach, methodology and training have changed but the goal of winning games has not.
|[November to middle of December]|
Tuesday, Nov. 28,
Saturday, Dec. 2,
Dec. 5, 4 p.m.
Dec. 8, 6 p.m.
Dec. 13, 6 p.m.
*denotes 3A Region 1 contest